So You Want to Quit Your Job and “Start Over”?
January 24, 2010 7 Comments
In the fall of 2008, soon after the global financial crisis took hold, I quit my full-time job, returned part-time to teaching, and started editing and writing on a freelance basis. The decision was the right one for me for a variety of reasons, and I’m very happy to be back in the classroom. But the move wasn’t the wildly liberating rebirth that people often assume a voluntary career transition to be. It simply marked a new phase in a continuous personal evolution. No fireworks went off. No balloons soared. I didn’t speak in tongues.
That humdrum reality is at odds with a template in the American psyche about the nature of self-renewal. Its features include casting off the shackles of the past, reinventing yourself, and realizing a full potential that only “starting over” supposedly permits. The deceptive allure of Jay Gatsby’s “orgastic future” is alive and well 85 years after F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel was published.
The American corporate workplace is the perfect breeding ground for this fantasy, with its almost pathological preoccupation with invention and innovation as metaphors for progress. Don’t get me wrong, these concepts are extremely useful when it comes to developing products and services, as the history of business proves in spades. But their psychological reach extends far beyond the domains where they have practical value. Indeed, the conceptual power of invention and innovation has been swallowed whole by many people who, naturally, feel the itch to change their lives from time to time, whether professionally or personally.
It’s just plain misguided to view that itch as evidence of a fundamental product flaw that requires you, as self-engineer, to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new design. Nor is it a malady in need of a cure or an evil from which to seek deliverance. The itch simply comes with having skin and flesh and blood and bone. As you walk through the world and its underbrush, you’re bound to get thorns in your side. No need to undergo a major surgical procedure to extract them — or to self-righteously cast blame elsewhere for being pricked. Save the stinging resignation sermon for the pulpit in your head.
Yes, I feel a bit uncomfortable when I listen to folks evangelize about reinventing themselves by quitting a job — or when they ask me to evangelize about my own quitting experience. It’s not that I get offended (I rarely do about anything), but I can’t help but be disturbed when I witness people playing tricks on their own minds, perhaps because I have done it myself. As I’ve written before, hyperbole about new-found freedom gets old fast, setting you up for a big letdown or even a crash and burn.
But perhaps this, too, sounds like evangelizing — by someone who’s written one too many blog posts about quitting a job. Call me a hypocrite. I won’t be offended.